Carolyn Heath Haag was born into the oil and gas pipeline industry. However, after college, she wasn’t sure she wanted to work at Heath Consultants Inc., the company her grandfather, Milton Heath Sr., started in 1933.
However, her father, Milton Heath Jr., gave her a job in the call center, answering the 1-800 line. Now, more than 30 years later, she represents the third generation to lead Heath Consultants and the first woman majority stockholder in the company’s 87-year history.
When the company was founded, Heath Consultants provided line clearing services to New England utilities. Later, Heath was involved with researching and discovering what was causing the death of trees in Massachusetts through what later became among the first known gas leak vegetation surveys. As the surveys proved effective at detecting leaks, the company expanded to provide methane detection systems for gas suppliers.
Over the years, Heath Consultants has expanded its products and services, including portable gas detectors and confined space monitors to pipe and cable locators, with the goal of becoming the world leader in utility protection and damage prevention. The company serves the upstream, midstream and downstream oil and gas markets, offering gas leak investigation and inspections, underground utility locating, meter reading services and rigorous training programs.
Heath Haag joined the family business in 1989, after earning a bachelor’s degree in business management from Ithaca College in New York. Starting in customer service, she has gotten to know the company by rising through the ranks and completing Heath’s management training program. Heath Haag worked in the company’s marketing department, but felt her career really took off when she moved into human resources.
“Human resources resonated with me because I care about people,” Heath Haag says. “I got that from my dad.”
Heath Haag isn’t the only third-generation member of her family to work at Heath Consultants. Her brother, Milton Heath III, serves as director of global business development.
During the early 1990s, Heath Consultants moved to Houston from its previous location in Stoughton, Massachusetts, about 20 miles south of Boston.
As president and chairman of a third-generation company, Heath Haag considers it an honor to carry on the family legacy, but she recognizes the challenges that distinction presents.
“Most companies, when they get to the third-generation level, they kill it,” Heath Haag says. “Once you hand down the business to the next family member, the culture changes, and maybe they don’t have same drive.”
Heath Haag strives to follow in her father’s footsteps when it comes to company culture.
“He had about 400 to 450 employees, and the company was breaking even,” she says. “For my father, it was never about making millions of dollars. It was more about giving back to the community and giving people jobs. That’s what I like.”
After Heath Haag became president and majority stockholder of Heath Consultants, the company was certified as a women’s business enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).
Heath Haag is proud of the WBENC certification, but also notes the business opportunities that distinction provides the company when working in states that require utilities to conduct a certain percentage of their business with minority- or woman-owned businesses.
“It helps us get our foot in the door,” she says. “For me personally, it’s an honor. There are a lot of women in this industry running companies.”
Heath Haag notes that executive vice president and chief marketing officer Paul Wehnert was involved in achieving the WBENC certification.
“Utilities like SoCalGas and PG&E had this requirement to work with minority- and women-owned companies, so we got certified in California first and then nationally,” Wehnert says. “It’s still a competitively bid business. We’re not getting work just because we’re woman-owned. But it does help us.”
This kind of female representation within the pipeline industry has a positive impact, adds Wehnert.
“Now, when you go to industry events, you see a large percentage of women and ethnicity groups,” he says. “The industry really has started to change. It’s good all around.”
Heath Haag says the transition from her role in human resources to leading the company in 2012 “wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be,” despite her entire board of directors walking out on her when she was named chairman. But that didn’t faze her. Heath Haag has faith in the company’s legacy and reputation.
“Heath Consultants is a family business, but we’re known across the industry,” she says. “My father did that. He handed it down to Paul. People in this industry know Paul. While maintaining a family business today gets scarier and scarier, I’m hoping to keep it going. Our reputation is still out there. We’re very well-known and very well-respected. I want to keep that going. I think that my grandfather and father would be very proud.”
Serving the Pipeline Industry
With more than 1,700 employees at its various locations, Heath Consultants provides leak detection, underground utility locating, corrosion control and meter field services throughout the United States and sells its products globally. The company mostly serves natural gas companies, from wellhead to burner tip, as Wehnert likes to say.
As technology permeates every aspect of business, the company aims to stay ahead of the curve to provide state-of-the-art services to its customers, such as Kinder Morgan, Duke Energy, Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and ATMOS Energy, to name a few.
“We have always been an industry leader in leak detection,” Wehnert says. “We work with a lot of partners, and we try to stay up on the latest technology. In the first 50 years, there were not a lot of changes in the industry.”
Computers revolutionized everything. Wehnert says Heath stays on top by looking for new technology to commercialize, but with a keen focus on its niche within the leak detection market. Many of the advances in the industry have come in recent years, involving such capabilities as automation, data acquisition and GPS.
“Leak detection even within the last five years was manual,” Wehnert says. “There was a lot of pushing paper around. Now with GPS and GIS, smartphones and smaller computing devices, the claim is we have better documentation. It’s not like before. You cannot just claim that you did it. You have to prove that you did it right. In the past, if Heath did it, people knew that it was done right. Now, people want validation.”
CEO Andrew Sitgreaves agrees, adding that risk management plays a major role in the demands for improving technology and documentation.
“It’s comes down to data,” he says. “I see the industry moving more toward increased ability to analyze data and become more predictive.”
In the end, Wehnert says Heath Consultants’ primary objective is keep people safe by preventing disasters that could occur because of a gas leak.
“Nobody wants to get stuck in the middle,” Wehnert says. “With people’s lives at stake, the industry wants the ability to prove or disprove that you did the job you were hired to do. When everything’s right, everyone’s happy. When something goes wrong, it’s who’s to blame for this? The technology we implement is not only to protect ourselves. It’s also so our customers can protect themselves.”
As the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, those in the pipeline industry have been deemed an essential business. That has required companies to adjust how they operate to keep employees and the public safe while continuing to conduct business.
“The No. 1 thing for us is the safety of our employees,” Wehnert says. “We don’t want put their health at risk. At the same time, we want to make sure we are holding up our contracts and making sure things are safe. Our communities are dealing with enough as it is. They don’t need a pipeline incident on top of everything else.”
Sitgreaves adds that the company aimed to keep its people employed throughout the pandemic.
“We wanted to keep people safe, keep them working and keep food on the table. That was our goal,” Sitgreaves says. “We didn’t get everything right, but we were able to keep most everyone working.”
With a company so spread out, Sitgreaves says one major improvement the company has made during the pandemic was a new communication protocol to stay in touch with employees.
“It was a team effort,” he says. “I’m proud to see how the company came together and rallied around a common denominator.”
Not Going Away
Despite challenges related to the pandemic and uncertainty in the market from a regulatory standpoint, Heath Consultants sees the oil and gas industry as a strong market.
“The big thing right now is the political challenges facing fossil fuels and the topic of climate change,” Wehnert says. “There’s an attack on the industry. We understand that renewables play into the energy portfolio, but we can’t get rid of natural gas or oil tomorrow. It’s on everyone’s minds. We understand that the pipeline industry is not going away.”
Wehnert believes the pipeline industry needs to do a better job of educating consumers about the good things that natural gas provides society.
“I’ve always said our industry doesn’t do enough to talk about how much product moves through a pipeline from Point A to Point B,” he says. “If we didn’t have pipelines, how many trucks would we have on the road? If you want all this modern convenience, then you need pipelines.”
With increased public concerns about climate change, Wehnert says Heath Consultants is well-positioned to help the pipeline industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Everything we do is to prevent methane from being released into the atmosphere,” he says. “For us, it’s exciting to be part of that. From Carolyn’s father and grandfather, environmental stewardship has always been a part of Heath Consultants’ mission.”
Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. Contact him at email@example.com.